Tashirojima – Cat Island
After leaving Yamagata Prefecture I headed to Miyagi Prefecture. Together with Fukushima this is the only prefecture that I had already visited before. So I have already been to some major tourist attractions there. This time I wanted to make a dream come true and so I visited “Tashirojima” – also known as “Cat Island”.
However, the island is in a region that was severely damaged by the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.
It was really hard to find any detailed information about the island’s condition post-disaster.
There was only one way to find out! I had to go myself to get some first-hand information!
Now I can finally provide some valid information in English for anybody who is interested in visiting!
Now, before we start some of you are probably wondering what the heck this “Cat Island” is and why you should visit! So, let’s clarify this first!
History of Tashirojima:
Tashirojima (田代島) is a small island and belongs to Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture.
Nowadays it’s also known as “Cat Island” (猫島 or 猫の島). That’s because there are more cats than human residents!
On top of that the majority of the (human) population is over 65 years old! There aren’t many young people. The only elementary school had to close down in 1989. To make the island more attractive for younger people the city decided to make a tourist attraction out of it.
The only thing that the island had to offer were all the cats …. and there we go!
It was promoted on TV as “Cat Island” and became very popular among cat lovers.
But how come there are so many cats on an island that can only be reached by ferry?
Today the island’s main industry is fishing. However, during the late Edo Period (江戸時代, 1603-1868) silkworms for making silk were raised on the island. As mice are a natural enemy of silkworms and became a real pest, the residents depended on cats to get rid of the problem.
Later fishermen populated the island and fed the cats, observing their behavior to predict storms and other odd weather situations. Cats were seen as bringers of good luck! A cat shrine has been built on the island and dogs or any other animal that could harm the cats are not allowed to come to the island!
Why should I visit?
Well, I hope that after reading through this post, you’ll have enough motivation to visit? ^-^;
As a cat lover Tashirojima is just a must-see! You might be disappointed that there aren’t as many cats as you thought.
Yes, there are many other spots in Japan where you can run into cats, but not on small, isolated islands!
And don’t you want to see the cats that survived the tsunami?
After all, for a few days people all over the world (even in Japan) thought that the whole island was gone (washed away by the tsunami).
If you haven’t watched the movies “Nyanko” (にゃんこ) yet, then maybe you should – and if it’s just for the neko cuteness.
What made me personally want to go even more are the Tofugu videos (Part 1 / Part 2) that were taken pre-tsunami.
Enjoy and please spread the word!
You can access Tashirojima only by ferry. The ferry terminal is in Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture.
You can access JR Ishinomaki Station by local train coming from Sendai. From Tokyo you can take a Shinkansen to Sendai first and then take a local train to Ishinomaki. Check the timetable and fare with Hyperdia.
From Ishinomaki Station you can take a bus that leaves in front of the station.
You can also take a taxi or – if you have enough time – walk. Walking would take about 30-40 minutes.
(*Hover over the means of transportation to get more information. Note that the information on the official Tashirojima website is not up to date anymore, but mine is – May 2012!)
The timetable changes fairly often, so you need to check the Ajishima Line (網地島ライン) homepage!
It’s all in Japanese, so I made a graphic that will help you read / understand the ferry schedule.
If you still need help, don’t hesitate to ask me.
The ferry terminal has small coin lockers and a toilet. The ferry also has a toilet.
There are different types of ferries. The cutest one is the one with the mermaid on it.
As you can see the ferry is quite small.
The trip to Tashirojima takes about 40 minutes.
There are two ports in Tashirojima (田代島) where you can get off:
Coming from Ishinomaki the ferry will first stop at Odomari (大泊), but I highly recommend you get off at the second stop (roughly 8 minutes later): Nitoda, (仁斗田).
We arrived at Nitoda (仁斗田) Port around 10am.
The first thing I saw was the big pile of garbage.
Ishinomaki as well as Tashirojima got damaged badly due to the tsunami caused by the big earthquake in March 2011.
All the small fishermen sheds and everything else that was nearby got completely destroyed by 10m high tsunami waves!
Even a year later – in May 2012 – they haven’t been able to get everything back to normal. Ishinomaki looks much worse, you’ll see that in my next blog post!
Most cats and the people survived the tsunami. The majority of the houses are at a higher altitude (as you’ll see later in this post), so the tsunami couldn’t reach them.
The cats were extremely disturbed prior to the big earthquake and tsunami. I’m sure they could feel something was wrong.
The port area is currently not as beautiful as it used to be due to all the garbage around, but they made the best out of it.
Note: On the cat-shaped sign they’re thanking all the visitors who are coming even after the disaster.
As mentioned earlier the fishermen are really fond of the cats and consider them as good-luck charms, so they feed them with fish they caught.
As dogs are not allowed it’s a true paradise for the cats!
Speaking of cats ….. where were they? ….
After walking for about 5 minutes, I was still in the port area. There I ran into the first one that was hiding under a small construction work crane.
It was a very short encounter, though, as it was hiding quickly. The funny thing was that it took a while until the cat got its body through the hole. Quite an amusing sight!
From the port you can easily access “Manga Island” and from there the “Cat Shrine“.
While the cat shrine is between Nitoda and Odomari, Manga Island is very close to Nitoda Port – which is why I recommend to get off the ferry there!
On my way to “Manga Island” I ran into a few cats … and this magnificent cat statue!!!
It was created by students of the “Tokyo University of Arts” in 2010.
It was HUGE and as you can see it consisted of many smaller cats! A brilliant idea!
Manga Island is on a hill, so you’ll hike up a little. It’s a very pleasant way up!
Maybe now you can understand why everybody was safe! Most of the residents’ houses are on hills that are higher than 10m above sea level!
The view from up there was breathtaking!!!
A little island … with more cats than people …. and with such an awesome view!!
Doesn’t that sound like paradise???? I could totally imagine living there after retirement … but then again it’s a bit far away from everything ^-^; ….
And then I finally reached “Manga Island” (マンガアイランド).
But what is that so-called Manga Island? Didn’t I visit “Cat Island“? Are you confused now??
Well, “Manga Island” is a small area on the top of a hill on Tashirojima (Cat Island).
There are a few extremely cute buildings that look like cats.
Those buildings were built in 2000 and are camping lodges that can be used from April to November. However at the time of my visit it wasn’t possible to book a stay there – I think it had to do with the damage by the tsunami.
If you want to stay longer than just a few hours on Cat Island, then where else would you want to stay?? That’s your best choice!
And what’s more is that you’ll get an awesome view from up there!
The view ALONE is worth a visit – if you ask me.
Those cute cat-shaped buildings were designed by the famous Shotaro Ishinomori. His mentor was Osamu Tezuka!
There’s the “Ishinomori Manga Museum” in Ishinomaki City – it was still closed due to damage by the time I visited, though.
While the smaller red and white striped buildings are pretty much all the same, this one is unique!
If you have a closer look at any of the buildings you’ll find so many cute details!
Close-up of one of the cat buildings’ doors.
Behind the buildings there’s a small area where you can buy food, drinks and some souvenirs.
At the time of my visit that was the only place where you could get something. They also mentioned that it was the only place to get souvenirs.
It is recommended that you bring your own food and drinks!
The people working there were really nice and young! I really expected to only see old people … and cats! *g* I had a nice chat with them.
Even the toilet there was cat-themed, featuring cat scribblings on the female toilet wall!
From Manga Island you can continue walking towards the “Cat Shrine“.
On my way I ran into a few more cats, of course!
This building used to be Tashirojima Elementary School. It was closed down in 1989 and turned into an educational center. The educational center closed in 2008. I guess that’s what happens when there are more cats than people and on top of that mostly older people.
Nobody was there when I visited, so I’m not sure if this building is still used at all, but it surely didn’t look like it!
And then I finally arrived at the Cat Shrine (猫神社)!
The fishermen who grew fond of the cats a long time ago built that shrine.
What happened is that one day a rock fell down and killed one of the cats. The fishermen decided to bury it and enshrined it there, praying that never ever something similar would happen again.
It’s a fairly small shrine, but you’ll find tons of cat related tiny items like those Maneki Neko statues.
Of course you can’t have a cat shrine without Hello Kitty! ^^
The sign on the left explains in greater detail about the cat that was hit by a rock in.
The first sentence shows how much the residents of the island respect the cats of Tashirojima:
The cat shrine is between the two ports of Tashirojima. As I still had time, I figured I could as well visit the other port: Odomari.
The characters next to the area map were created by the one who designed the cat buildings on Manga Island, Shotaro Ishinomori. They are characters from his series “Cyborg 009“.
This sign tells you where to seek shelter in case of a disaster. It looked pretty new, so I assume they put it up after the tsunami hit in 2011.
Apart from a beautiful view there’s not too much to see in Odomari, so if you’re short on time I suggest you go back after visiting the Cat Shrine!
There was a small shrine right at the port area, though.
Even some parts of the shrine were damaged by the tsunami.
I was surprised to still see Tsubaki (椿, camellia) around that time of the year!
The shrine was really small and I could tell that almost nobody recently came here.
I had it all for myself!
A shoe in the sand. Although everybody survived the tsunami, houses were destroyed and belongings were washed away by the high waves.
As there wasn’t anything else to do I went back to Nitoda Port.
This used to be a restroom. That’s all that’s left after the tsunami hit.
This photo gives Cat Island a spooky atmosphere, especially considering what happened in March 2011.
As I still had time I decided to go cat-hunting. I hadn’t seen so many cats yet, but I knew they HAD to be somewhere. And I was right! *g*
Just a little advice: you might have more luck if you walk into some of the narrow side streets instead of staying on the main road!
Most cats didn’t care that there were tourists coming from far away just to see them. Why should they?
They did what they always do: sleeping, eating, chilling …
But that’s ok, that’s what we cat lovers want to see! ^-^
Others were busy cleaning themselves. They didn’t even bother that there were people taking photos of them.
Well, some were shy and ran away, but most of them weren’t.
I also passed by what usually is the only shop where you can purchase food or drinks, but at that time nobody was there.
The residents have created little “apartments” for the cats everywhere, so they can live there without having to worry about anything.
And you’ve probably started to wonder where the masses of cats are?
Well, there definitely are a lot of cats, but you gotta find them! It’s not like there are so many that you will run into them at each and every corner!
The horny cat. And it was really persistent!
It didn’t give up, but the black cat kept running away! *g*
A beautiful cat observing the others while chilling.
If you now think that you’d only run into cats on Cat Island, then I have to disappoint you! ^-^;
This was kind of hilarious. The sign tells you that they’re watching you, so you better don’t throw your garbage away … but the sign itself has been carelessly thrown away, hasn’t it? Seriously though, I think that might have fallen off due to the tsunami.
People are still constantly repairing all the damage caused by the tsunami everywhere in Japan, also here on Tashirojima.
Tashirojima has a few smaller shrines on hills from where you have a great view of the ocean!
If you have time, definitely climb up and enjoy it!
And then I was back at the port to catch my ferry. A last encounter with one of the cats before I left.
I left with the “Blue Liner” – the same ferry type I came with. I didn’t get to ride the cute mermaid ferry after all.
I was back in Ishinomaki City in the afternoon and decided to walk to the station when I noticed how badly the area had been damaged by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. I took a lot of photos and was sad as well as shocked!
Stay tuned for that blog post!